“The US-Taiwan relationship is more complex and far-reaching than most people realize,” said Jeffrey Horwitz, US Department of State.What's up with Taiwan anyways and why does it even matter to the average American far away across the Pacific? First lets clarify one misconception; I found most Americans seem to confuse Taiwan with Thailand. I won't judge them, Taiwan is purposely excluded from international participation in many conferences or formally recognized by the UN. Taiwan is low on the average American's radar, although it shouldn't be. The US regularly sells helicopters, weaponry and training to Taiwan and as Mainland China has about 12,000 missiles pointed at Taiwan, the Taiwanese perception is America will come to their aid if China invades. When this misconception comes up I tell my Taiwanese friends don't bet on it. For now the US will do everything they can do avoid conflict with China, like supporting Japanese militarization and increased navy activity in the South China Sea (but that's another subject).
|Presidential candidates Eric Chu (KMT) and Tsai Ing-wen (DPP)|
President Ma turned up the drama button with his last minute announcement that he was having an historic meeting with Xi the leader of China in Singapore three weekends ago. It was extremely upsetting for most Taiwanese. Overseas Taiwanese students made a joint statement opposing the meeting. I was utterly bewildered (and I have the luxury of flying home should the situation get heated).
The local media had a field day; Ma apparently drank too much, but at least he held a press conference (unlike Xi) which obviously was not shown in China. Protesters in Taipei fought with police and chanted, "Ma, don't come back!" Mainland Chinese allowed their citizens to flood DPP [green] party candidate (and most likely future president) Tsai Ing-wen's Facebook page denounced the meeting, while Chinese [state] newspapers accused her of being narrow minded and selfish.
The timing couldn't be even more suspicious as Ma's [blue] KMT (Kuomintang) party lost in local elections last year as well as current polls, to the historically pro-independence DPP (Democratic Progressive Party) party.
Here is the layman's background of Taiwan's political history: Although the KMT fought the communists in 1949, their US backed leader Chiang Kai-shek was another example of a totalitarian who controlled with an iron fist and suppressed local dissent (known as the White Terror Era under martial law. Democratic reforms only happened after his death in 1975 and democracy wasn't a reality until the first direct presidential election in 1996 (which China responded to by launching some missiles). Unfortunately the last DPP president Chen Shui-bian was jailed for corruption charges which led to Ma's election. He courted mainland China hoping increased economic dependence and trade would soften their military threats and the potential of an invasion. It boosted Taiwanese business in China, increased Chinese tourism in China and attracted Chinese students to study in Taiwanese universities. But it also resulted in stagnated wages, lower economic trade with Asian partners and the perception that China is even more adamant on reunification dissipate Ma's butt kissing.
The Sunflower Movement was key in articulating publicly, the Taiwanese fear of Ma selling out Taiwan to China via the CSSTA (Cross Strait Service Trade Agreement) a non transparent trade agreement , as well as inspire the more violent Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong (read "Today's Hong Kong Tomorrow's Taiwan").
So far, DPP presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen, a political professor from Kaohsiung, is leading in the polls. Taiwan's presidential election is this January. My daughter certainly is routing for her, if not for the sole reason that she would be Taiwan's first female president and secondly, that she wouldn't "sell out Taiwan to China". Tsai Ing-wen has gone out of her way to repeat that she would not push for independence but maintain the status quo, although China says quite the opposite. What is up for debate is the 1992 Consensus, which recognizes ,"One China, Two Principles." Tsai Ing-wen's stance is the 1992 Consensus never happened. She re-framed the whole argument into the Taiwan Consensus back in 2011.
In desperation, the KMT swapped their female presidential candidate ("little chili pepper" Hung Hsiu-chu) as late as October of this year, for Taipei Mayor Eric Chu. Chu is trying to distance himself from Ma by criticizing his party leader's controversial trade agreement. It hasn't seemed to make much difference in the polls.
Back to my original question: Why does the recent Ma-Xi meeting and upcoming elections even matter to the average American far away across the Pacific? It matters because like it or not Chinese politics influences not only their economy, but the world economy, stability in the Pacific region, as well as climate change which merits our attention. If the yuan's downturn is making waves in Africa, you can be sure its vexing everyone else, such is globalization. Yet a policy of isolationism isn't in anyone's interests, let alone Taiwan's. Even Ma sees the virtue (perhaps a little too late) in increasing trade with partners other than Beijing, like Australia for example.
There's a theory that democratic ideals make the world stable, democracies do not go to war with each other. Democracies in Asia mark as a counter balance to China's influence and agenda of expanding it borders. Taiwan is the glaring example across the straits, modeling to the Chinese people that democracy is possible. If China invades Taiwan, you can be sure that Hawaii, Japan and the Pacific Coast are potentially up for grabs. Unlike American politicians, Chinese authority think long term, they will wait when the timing is right. Not much of the international community has stopped them thus far; every year, inch by inch their contested borders with every country are growing .
We live in extremely interesting times. We in Taiwan are sitting on the edge of our seats, waiting for the January 16 elections, assuming Dr. Tsai Ing-wen will be the new president and somewhat apprehensive to what Beijing's response will be. I'm sure more missiles will be tested, but other than that we wait and see.